Jan 29, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
You might remember, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas I asked if you would help collect food packages and place them in St. Joseph's Chapel so that they may be distributed to those in need. A few days ago, I received a letter from Catholic Charities, our local branch in North County. It wasn't just a "thank you" letter. It was an eye opener - for it puts into context the impact of simple reaching out to the vulnerable of our community, regardless if our efforts came second nature or were made with much effort or sacrifice.
(reading of the letter follows that highlights how many families were helped, individuals helped etc.)
I relate these facts and figures of how many families and individuals we have helped, not so that we might make a name for ourselves, or receive recognition or even to get a pat on the back, which in itself is very nice. St. Paul reminds us that we are not to boast of our efforts before God. So how should we respond to this letter?
By cooperating with God's grace, even unknowingly, we can bring to fulfillment what was spoken in today's Psalm. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind; "the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers." (Psalm 146). It is our privilege and responsibility as Christians to play, even a small part, in God's own work.
We then become deeply aware that every single person, regardless of the circumstances or manner of living their life, has been created in the image and likeness of God. We are able to see every human being, from the unseen embryo to the hardened criminal, as worthy of our love and generosity. Why? God has chosen them to shame us to salvation!
As St. Paul reminds us in our first reading, and to anyone who champions their own rights over innocent and vulnerable human lives when he says, "God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Cor. 1:26ff)
Therefore, none of us can boast before God, for everything that we have and receive is given out of His charity. We, in turn, give of ourselves, not to prove we are strong, not to make a name for ourselves, our parish, or our professions or organizations we belong to. No! We do not tell God how good we are. He instead tells us "how good we are" - we are "blessed" - but not because we have done anything deserving of His praise. More times than not, God will not allow us to see nor experience the fruits of our works, our charity or even our prayers be it for others or for ourselves.
For example, the poor in spirit might continue to be poor in spirit for the rest of their lives. They are blessed. After the death of a loved one, sorrow and sadness may continue until it takes us to our own grave. They are blessed. One might live a whole life and never be praised or thanked for anything. They are blessed. Many will continue to experience prejudice, suspicion and injustice every day without end. They are blessed. Every day you might have to secretly fight with personal demons and never give up even though you are exhausted. They are blessed. So many unknown men and women are laid to rest without anyone knowing how many lives they saved. They are blessed.
So do we just motor on and wait for our reward in heaven? That's the wrong attitude and the wrong question. We do not claim heaven after death, as if it were a prize because we persevered. Heaven is God's space, where God's Kingdom is perceived in all its fullness and beauty. Because of the courageous witnesses of Christians, for example, the hundreds of thousands who march on Washington every year calling for the protection of unborn innocent human lives and who may never see the fruits of their efforts, or the countless men and women who continually feed the hungry and help bring healing to those in need without end, or the many who fight for the justice and dignity of their brothers and sisters, or those who put themselves in harm's way to extend the gift of freedom - there are indeed little glimpses here and there of heaven on earth, making inroads through this world of ours. The Kingdom of heaven is still being built up brick by brick - even in the midst of our sins, sufferings, fake news or the alternative facts. So, despite it all, always remain a people of hope and have faith in God’s promises that His Kingdom will come.
In short, continue to be a credible witness before others, not just outside in the world, but also within the family of the Church. Continue to actively contribute to the Church’s mission and ministry. Encourage each other by your example, in works of charity and personal compassion, but also in little ways such as when the offering basket comes round, leaving some food at St. Joseph's Chapel - show acts of kindness and welcome to strangers, newcomers and to those around you. Do not sit in your pew like members of the jury when you are meant to be witnesses! Even little acts of generosity and heroic virtue are noticed and they all add up in ways we might never fully understand here and now. But doing so allows God's Kingdom to slowly, gently and firmly take root on His good earth again.
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